While the rest of the world is evolving through the 21st century, you can still count on Singapore to stubbornly remain in the last century when it comes to LGBT rights and acceptance. Singapore faces a paradox of being a globalized city that’s open to the free movement of goods, services and talent, while simultaneously rejecting the free movement of ideas common in a globalized world. While Singapore boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world, we are lagging far behind in the human rights department, no thanks to our self proclaimed conservative government that is notoriously resistant to social change.
The law still treats male homosexuals as criminals
S377a of the Penal Code was an archaic law written by British lawmakers back when we were still a colony of the British Empire. But now, S377a which criminalizes homosexual behavior between males has become a stain in Singapore’s human rights record. While the archaic law is not enforced, its very presence is a testament to the discrimination that still exists in Singapore. The government, by refusing to repeal S377a is making a statement that it is unwilling to shift its attitude towards the LGBT minority. As such, Singapore remains the only developed country in the world that still has laws criminalizing homosexual behavior.
The Government actively censors LGBT individuals from existence
While Lee Hsien Loong claims to adopt a “live and let live” approach when it comes to the LGBT community, his government’s actions speak otherwise, especially in Singapore’s heavily regulated media scene. The Media Development Authority bans the positive portrayal of same sex relationships and alternative families from public TV, radio, books, plays, video games or any creative work. And more often than not, the MDA hasn’t been afraid to exert its authority through coercion.
In 2007, popular video game Mass Effect was temporarily banned because it featured a lesbian scene. In 2015, a Jolin Tsai music video was banned from being played on radio stations because the song featured a same sex wedding. In 2013, the National Library destroyed 2 children’s books for portraying alternative families in the animal kingdom (same sex parents). In February 2016, Mediacorp deliberately cut out a segment of Ellen’s show in which she interviewed US President Barack Obama who uttered pro LGBT comments.
Such deliberate and draconian censorship only reinforces the notion that the government is actively suppressing the existence of the LGBT community in Singapore. What is there to hide? Such people do exist. They pay their taxes, they serve National Service, they are Singaporeans just like you and me. Could you imagine the uproar if the government censored a certain race or religion in the media? Why is Singapore’s LGBT community held to a different standard?
Opposition from the religious right
While Singapore has adopted a zero tolerance approach when it comes to racism and religious discrimination, it is turning a blind eye to homophobia and intolerance promoted by the religious right. Singapore’s secular space is slowly being infiltrated by the politically active religious right. When preachers like Lawrence Khong can openly lobby the government to continue its persecution of LGBT Singaporeans, it raises a serious question on the level of influence the religious right has on public policy. Hate groups such as We are against Pinkdot in Singapore openly encourage violence and discrimination against LGBT Singaporeans. Their keyboard operatives flood the comments sections of politicians with anti LGBT messages in attempts to sway public opinion in their favour.
Rather than condemn homophobia and vitriol, PM Lee instead warned the LGBT activists not to “push their agenda too hard” lest there be a pushback from conservatives in Singapore. While the rest of the world is moving forward in acceptance, PM Lee’s government is clinging on to the status quo, much to the delight of the religious right. The government still maintains that Singapore is a conservative society. But a conservative society is merely a reflection of a conservative government. In fact, it is government policy more than anything else that emboldens homophobes and hate preachers. By censoring the voices of LGBT Singaporeans, they are in fact, fueling the homophobic frenzy.
LGBT individuals suffer disproportionately high depression and suicide rates
In a survey by Oogachaga Counselling and Support, a non-profit agency catering for the LGBT and queer community, 60.2 per cent of respondents indicated having experienced abuse and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The survey also found that such abuse and discrimination led to a significantly higher incidence rate of having suicidal thoughts or attempts.
While we pride ourselves in being a “Democratic society based on justice and equality”, the inconvenient truth is that discrimination still exists in Singapore. For the LGBT minority, that discrimination lies in the form of family rejection, an overtly homophobic government, hate comments online, hate preachers and social stigma. We can choose to ignore it but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. The defining challenge of our time should not be on how we build racial and religious harmony. We have already achieved that. Instead we should be talking about LGBT rights and acceptance, which is lagging far behind the rest of the developed world.